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Driving Blind
Ray Bradbury
Avon Books, 259 pages

Driving Blind
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of our time. Born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920, he authored such classics of the genre as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Farenheit 451 (1953) by his early thirties, and continues to produce important work today.
During Mikhail Gorbachov's 1990 summit meeting in New York, he made a special trip to visit "my favorite author," who he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Driving Blind
SF Site Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes
SF Site Review: The Illustrated Man
The Illustrated Man Excerpt
The Ray Bradbury Theatre
PENDULUM by Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse (1941)

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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While Ray Bradbury's latest collection of short stories, Driving Blind, isn't science fiction, the author himself is caught in a classic SF time warp, stuck in a mid-20th century, small-town, midwestern American mindset oblivious to post-modern realities.

Bradbury rounds up his usual suspects -- surprising spinsters, eccentric sisters, friendly grandmothers, middle-aged men longing for lost youth and the energetic boys they once were, assorted circus performers, and various other curious and marvelous misfits -- in a selection of tales in which no one uses an epithet stronger that "goddamn" or "hell" in struggling to comprehend something strangely wondrous that befalls their otherwise mundane existence.

It's a nice place to visit. Even if there isn't much more to do than just pass through.

The title story is vintage Bradbury, about a Studebaker (a car from the days when cars actually had some shiny individuality) salesman who comes into town hawking his metallic road creatures. This wouldn't ordinarily be anything unusual, except that the salesman always wears a hangman's hood over his head. This habit doesn't stop him from "driving blind," as it were, nor from sucking up his dinner through a straw at the boarding house run by the young narrator's grandmother. The boy helps the mysterious stranger come to terms with what he is, and how such self-acceptance may allow him to scale immeasurable heights.

In his Afterword, Bradbury again employs the driving blind metaphor, telling of a dream (one wonders if he actually had it) in which the writer is sitting in a car driven by the Greek muse, a figure traditionally depicted as physically unsighted. "Trust me. I know the way," she tells her frightened passenger, who at first tries to take the wheel away from her and almost sends them both off the road (which is actually realistic, considering that Bradbury has never learned to pilot an automobile). Bradbury's point, of course, is that only by forgetting his normal preconceptions and fears and by letting the blind Muse steer could he have arrived at the tales that form this collection.

Although at times I think the Muse takes a few wrong turns, for the most part it's a trip worth taking. One of my personal favourites is the mystery behind the theft of a set of love letters from a woman's long ago youth that are subsequently resent back to her, one by one. In Bradbury-land, men never lose their boyish bashfulness, nor their resourcefulness to find true love.

True love is also the subject of the tale about the schoolmarm who transforms herself into a nymph of the night to follow a man unaware of her affections, until she is finally caught in the act. To enjoy not only this charming story, but much of Bradbury's oeuvre, you have to get past the "Father Knows Best" gender roles. Women in Bradbury's back-porch nostalgia aren't feminists, though I doubt there's any ideological reason for this, any more than that his characters smoke as if there never were a Surgeon General's report or that someone is considered a success for earning "a five figure" salary. Bradbury's landscape is defined by the experiences of his Illinois youth, and, unlike the rest of us, he's figured out a way to stay there contentedly.

Equally nostalgic are the Twilight Zone-type settings -- some stories I even imagined in black and white. The street sweeper who sucks up something decidedly unusual into his machine and must ponder whether he should let it out. The doctor on a passenger flight to Mars (the only story with a remotely science fictional setting) who faces the prospect of immortality with trepidation. The grandmother who turns the tables on her murderously-scheming grandson-in-law.

It's not that these are old dated stories; in fact, all but four were newly written expressly for this volume. If you're a fan (as I am), you'll be as enchanted as you were when you first picked up Dandelion Wine and were transported to a place in which the ordinary somehow became extraordinary, and it didn't matter that the space travel of The Martian Chronicles or the futuristic setting of Fahrenheit 451 were missing. In fact, Bradbury has never been, strictly speaking, a science fiction writer, though that is how most people think of him. As Clifton Fadiman's famous introduction to The Martian Chronicles pointed out, Bradbury "is a moralist who works most easily in the medium known as fantasy... [his] ancestors in the field are not Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, whose imaginations are conditioned upon a scientific view of reality." Indeed, Driving Blind has been nominated for a 1998 World Fantasy Award (even though many of these stories are only borderline fantasy -- and Bradbury maintains that his account of a one-ring circus in a Mexican border town happened just as he describes it). But as much as I love Bradbury, I wonder if there's something itself nostalgic about this latest in a long line of deserved honors. I'm not totally up on what's happening in the fantasy field, but my suspicion is that Bradbury's style is something less than cutting-edge. I somehow doubt that today's 12-year-olds -- raised on computer games and gritty graphic novels -- will be as caught up with Bradbury as I was as a 12-year-old in the 1960s when the prospect of a man on the moon was still science fiction. Those of us who've grown up on Bradbury and continue to read him are much like the characters in this book who yearn to recapture the feelings of their youth, even as we recognize the futility that, as another writer put it, you can't go home again. I don't see the average younger reader today relating to Bradbury's small-town sentimentality, though I certainly hope I'm wrong.

Ray's a lucky man. He gets to invent the world he wants to live in any damn way he pleases, and he's nice enough to offer us a complimentary tour. If newer, hipper readers don't quite get it, well, the hell with them. Driving Blind is taking a trip with your favorite eccentric uncle -- there are a lot of stories to be heard (some that sound vaguely familiar already), and even if he seemed to be a bit more interesting when he was a younger man, it's still a trip well worth taking.

Copyright © 1998 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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